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©02 The Media Desk
I had never appreciated just how large a major capital merchant ship was until today. I spent five hours scrambling around below decks with a flashlight and a dart gun, looking for a monkey. After several terrifying hours of looking for a pair of Cuban agents who were also looking for the monkey.
Yes. A monkey.
A monkey that had a microfilm disc sewed into its back.
The ship had been towed into the port in New York and anchored a hundred yards out in the upper bay. I met a plainclothes agent from the Port Authority at a pier. Bishop42 had said finding the stolen disc was going to be monkey business, but until Sergeant Clyborn said we were actually looking for a capuchin monkey, I thought he was joking.
"A what?" I asked as the small boat pulled away from land.
"It's a little black monkey with a white head." The sergeant said.
"OK. How big is it?"
"About, well..." He held his hands about a foot apart, "I guess it's about your usual monkey size."
With a suppressed laugh I looked over the dart gun he had given me. "This ought to do the job."
"First we've got to find him."
"How do you know he's still on the ship?"
"We searched the crew when we took them off, and he has been sighted by my partner down in a cargo hold."
I nodded and looked out toward the ship, concentrating on NOT looking at the ugly water splashing by the side of the boat. I managed to scramble up the ladder to the deck without loosing my breakfast and wondered about the penalty for sending the Bishop a real dead fish by email.
This mission was explained to me as a payback of a favor to the Port Authority and US Customs for some things they had done for us over the years. The requirement, I not tell anybody anything except I had spent the day in New York.
The microfilm was property of NATO, a fact I didn't know until later. The monkey carried a Cuban passport. He was supposed to have been taken off the ship in Jamaica, but he had gotten loose, and the ship continued on for New York without his friend. A US agent had collared the operative, but without his monkey. Now it was up to the authorities in New York to find him and complete the circle.
But somebody forgot to tell the monkey all this.
The sergeant's partner looked at me with open skepticism. "You're an expert at this?"
I answered honestly, "This is the first time I've gone hunting for a monkey."
"Whatever. We need all the help we can get."
"I still say we should smoke him out, tear gas the hold, flush him out." A uniformed port cop said behind them.
"Too dangerous. If he gets too much of it he could die down there and we'd never find him." The sergeant answered.
Before long we spread out across the stern of the ship. There was about a dozen of us all told. Two FBI agents, port authority agents, a couple of people from customs, and a few SP's. All under tight hush hush orders from so high up the orders were carved in stone.
We worked our way forward. Making a bunch of racket. Slamming doors, shouting, and stomping. A New York City animal control officer was sitting on the bow, with a tranquilizer rifle with a nice scope, waiting. But if we cornered the little bugger, we each had a dart pistol and orders to shoot. It was suspected the monkey may also have rabies or something.
Now I was deep in the hold, shining my light around some crates of something labeled in Portuguese. I saw something move in the shadows. "Mick! I think I saw him!" I shouted to the Shore Patrol officer I had been paired with.
"OK Hunter, I'm coming around." He thought my name was Hunter. I didn't argue.
Suddenly all hell broke loose. A burst of jabbering in Spanish followed by several gunshots. Mick yelled furiously, then there was silence.
"Mick?" I shouted. I already had dad's gun in one hand with the dart pistol in the other. I ran ducking behind crates to where he was laying. "Mick?"
"Hey, I didn't know monkeys carried guns." He said with a grimace.
"Or cuss in Spanish." I looked at him. His uniform had an ugly stain below his right shirt pocket. "Can you walk?"
He thought about it and nodded. I helped him back the way we came. Running feet were heading our way, this time the shouts were in American.
"What happened?" The senior SP asked.
"Cubans." Mick said, I nodded.
"We were afraid of that." A customs man said. "They must have gotten on the boat in Jamaica."
"And they ain't gettin' off here." A female harbor cop added.
"OK. I've got the Harbor Police watching the ship to make sure nobody else comes and goes. We're all stuck on this tub together, and we are all looking for that monkey." The Port Authority man said. The others agreed. "How do you think we should proceed?" The sergeant said to me.
I swallowed hard and looked at the dart gun, I locked its safety on and stuck it in my pants, then opened the cylinder on dad's .38. She was ready to go. "First our Cuban friends. The same way we were looking for the monkey."
"I agree." The SP said to my relief.
Mick was soon lifted off the ship by helicopter.
The animal control officer at the front of the ship was handed a real rifle now. Instead of CO2 dart guns, the rest of us were carrying our sidearm of choice. My .38 special being the smallest caliber there. The sergeant pulled out something that looked like it was fresh out of a cowboy movie. He saw me looking at his gun.
".45 Colt. A Man's Gun." He said checking its loads. He spun the cylinder with a smile and clicked it home.
The Shore Patrol officer racked the slide on his .45 1911 Gov. model. "I'll stick with this. It works." He sighted the massive weapon at the air.
We paired up again. This time I had the woman from the harbor police as my partner. But now we stayed within at least occasional sighting distance of the next pair, checking each passage and room carefully.
But the massive below decks offered dozens of places to hide.
We were stopped by the bulkhead of a cargo hold. Working back along the dead end passage we ran into the sergeant and an FBI agent.
"We were just discussing bringing in the marines." He told me.
"Might not be a bad idea." I said. "This ship is unbelievable. The Cubans could be anywhere."
He nodded. "OK. You guys go on forward, I'll make the call." He headed up the stairs. The three of us worked on.
More gunfire and shouting. This time from up on deck. We ran toward it.
One of the Cubans had been flushed, and hit. But now it was known there was at least three of them on board. One of the harbor police officers had been grazed but wanted to stay on and repay the Cuban.
Nobody had seen the monkey.
We kept up the search, and within the hour were joined by eighteen heavily armed Marines in full combat gear, bulletproof vests, helmets, M-16's and all. Plus two more officers from the harbor police.
I was worried that with all these people and all this hardware we'd be tripping over each other. But down in the bowels of the old ship I began wondering about maybe seeing if they could get another squad to come over.
Dividing my time between looking for Cubans, and the monkey, I thought if I caught the furry little thing the Cubans might surrender without more gunfire. But he was as invisible as they were.
Now I heard what could only be the M-16's of the Marines barking in the cargo hold next to the one I was in. Then running steps were coming my way. I peeked carefully around crates that smelled like over-ripe fruit of some kind. A man bounced off a stack of crates and charged my way. He looked over his shoulder pointing a pistol back at an unseen target.
Without thinking about it, I waited until he was abreast of me, then I dove on top of him and jammed my gun into his mouth, taking one of his teeth in the process. I glared into his eyes hoping to cut through the language barrier with fear. It worked, he dropped his gun and went limp under me.
"Got him!" I shouted to the lady cop who was around the next pile of boxes.
Soon we were surrounded by marines who took the man off my hands.
"We got the other one, sir." The Marine C.O. said. "That leaves one."
I nodded, catching my breath. I didn't ask if the one they got was dead or alive.
The search went on. In another half-hour an SP came around and said the last two Cubans had been cornered and surrendered.
"So, there were four." Sergant Clyborn mused.
"Well. Yes and no, sir." The Shore Patrol woman said. "One was a Jamaican."
So now, there was only about five of us left on board. Looking for the cause of all the excitement. The monkey.
Now, I had been poking around in holes in the hold a rat wouldn't go in. I found compartments with a couple of inches of rusty water in them. There were boxes up front that looked like they were put there during WWII. But no monkey.
Weary, I went 'topsides' up the 'gangway' to the 'galley'. Several others had the same idea. We drank some of the worst coffee ever made and compared ideas on trying to get the monkey to come to us.
"I saw it!" A guy said rushing in. "It's up here!" He waved us to follow him.
We dropped our cups and ran down the hall.
And there, outside on a railing, sat the monkey.
At this point I wouldn't have said it was cute to save me. But it could have been at another place and time. We stood in a group outside the door ten yards away and stared.
"Who's gonna take the shot?" The sergeant asked.
I already had my dart gun cocked and in hand. I rested it on the shoulder of one of the harbor police and aimed carefully, I prayed it would shoot true to its aim.
The dart caught the monkey in his hind quarter. It let out a yelp and immediately pulled the dart from its hip. Then it jumped up and climbed a pipe to the deck above.
"At least it didn't go back down. Spread out. Find it." The sergeant ordered. "Good shot Hunter."
"We've got about three minutes before it goes to sleep." One of the others said looking at his watch.
We rushed upstairs and fanned out over the deck. The monkey was cowering in a corner, already dazed by the drug.
"It's not going to die is it?" One of the guys asked.
"It shouldn't, but it'll have to be quarantined, why? You want it?"
The guy shook his head.
In a minute the monkey dropped to the floor, panting and looking around in terror.
We let it fall asleep, then it was carefully picked up and put in a small cage.
I had a nice dinner with some of the people from the harbor authority and drove most of the night to get home after midnight.
Keia was sound asleep in her corner. Soon, I was too. Memories of stomping around in the depths of a huge old freighter fading into the night.
Three weeks later I got a call at work from Keia. She was giggling with excitement and jabbering in the broken English she fell to when her emotions were in overdrive.
Finally she calmed down enough to tell me what was going on.
"The Bishop send you the New York man's monkey for me. He is so cute."
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